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At farmers markets, healthy food comes with healthy practices

ST. LOUIS – Locally made items crafted by artisans weren’t at the Tower Grove Farmers Market on Saturday, but the fresh vegetables, breads and plants were. 

And there were some additions: the masks worn by almost all vendors and customers; and a smaller, more spread-out venue than in the pre-pandemic era.

It was all part of the market’s efforts to start up again safely. And vendors in booths spread out around the circle drive said their business was starting up again, while customers said they felt they were safe. 

Bobby Sweet carries a box of plants he bought for his home garden at the Tower Grove Farmers Market on Saturday, May 23, 2020.
Photo by Jim Merkel/
“I think they’re doing a good job distancing and everything,” said Bobby Sweet, as he carried some tomato and pepper plants he had just bought.

Four miles away, at the venerable Soulard Market, a reporter observed than most people weren’t wearing masks. Although two vendors said people were wearing them, neither said that almost all were wearing them, as at the Tower Grove market.

A sign at Soulard Market reminds customers to keep themselves and others safe by staying six feet apart as they shop at the historic farmers market.
Photo by Jim Merkel/
“Probably the majority of people are wearing masks,” said Cathie Shurtleff, who sells soap, lotions, oils, fragrances and essentials at her stand at the Soulard Market.

“When all this first started, this corona scare, people were afraid to come out, but the last three weeks have been pretty busy,” Shurtleff said.

Right after news started about COVID-19, “It was so slow, we didn’t see any point in coming back, so we shut down for a couple of weeks; and then we came back, and it’s just been getting like back to normal,” Shurtleff said.

Sam Bergadia, who sells nuts, said he had shut his business down for a while. He estimated that about 60 to 70 percent of those at the Soulard Market wear masks. 

Meanwhile, Anurag Terkonka had different thoughts about visiting the Soulard Market on Saturday. 

Terkonka had never visited the market before and tagged along with his girlfriend, who often buys meat from a vendor there. Terkonka, who recently received a Master of Science degree in neuroscience at St. Louis University, is helping to provide area business people with medical personal protective equipment.

“The last thing we need to do is allow small business to shut down,” Terkonka said. “We want to make sure that we are having medical grade equipment being delivered.” 

Some of the vendors have masks and some don’t, Terkonka remarked. 

Customers of Julia’s Market Cafe at Soulard Market enjoy Memorial Day weekend on Saturday, May 23, 2020, while keeping a safe distance apart. Photo by Jim Merkel/
“At the end of the day, it’s part of the Constitution. You can’t really tell someone to wear a mask unless you put a law into place,” Terkonka said. “My opinion is, we should all have masks on, just for the safety. At the very least, respect others.”

Back at the Tower Grove Farmers Market, visitors Gary and Brenda Lane said they felt safe there. However, “I don’t think we should have to wear a mask. We only have masks because they require them,” Brenda Lane said. 

Gary Lane said he didn’t wear masks that much, “but they wanted it here, so. …”

Vendor Luke Cockson said almost everyone at the Tower Grove Farmers Market had a mask.

“I’d say probably 95 percent of the people if not higher than that are wearing masks, customers included, and then they’re all very spaced out,” said Cockson, who has been selling at the market for eight years. “We’ve got little circles down for the lines, and we’re more than six feet apart.”

Cockson has a product that’s fitting for staying hygienic. He buys food from farmers and then packages it. It has helped his sales, he said. 

Heather and Mark Stille of Griggsville do something similar at their booth, which sells a variety of lettuce, kale and similar products.

“When we are planting and harvesting, we’ve been wearing gloves, since March. So, really, when I give you your lettuce or your product, you’re the first person to touch it,” Heather Stille said. 

Business has been good, she explained.

“We’re about sold out,” she said late on Saturday morning. “It’s kind of what we thought it would be. A little slower start, but we kind of knew that.

“It’s picking up. It’s all good.”

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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